My husband and I spent 18 long months saving for our family’s trip to Walt Disney World. We budgeted, we scrimped, we saved; we sought out discounts and deals, taking advantage of every coupon we could find. It was the trip of a lifetime – but what if it didn’t have to be a once in a lifetime trip?
The Ubiquitous Red Vans
We noticed them the moment we arrived on Disney property: the ubiquitous red vans zooming from resort to resort, from park to park. What are those all about, we wondered to ourselves? It didn’t take long to learn the answer – the Disney Vacation Club. Those vans shuttle resort guests interested in a Disney Vacation Club membership to and from appointments at the Saratoga Springs resort. They really were everywhere – leading me to wonder just how much of a deal the Disney folks were offering.
Not Your Average Timeshare
Never one to be left in the dark when it comes to a good deal, I decided to schedule an appointment for my own family to see what the club was all about.
The first thing my sales representative told me:it’s not your average timeshare. With more timeshare agreements, you buy a certain amount of time at a certain number of properties. The Disney Vacation Club operates differently; instead of buying a set amount of time, you purchase points, which you can use at a variety of Disney and non-Disney properties across the globe. A week’s stay in Disney’s Animal Kingdom lodge may cost you 76 points during the slow season; those same seven nights may cost you 300 points during peak season at Disney’s new Aulani resort in Hawaii. You can stretch your points as far as you want to go, or splurge and use them all for a short stay at a very high-end property.
The Nuts and Bolts
Let’s get one thing straight: I am not made of money. My husband and I earn a nice living for ourselves, but we are decidedly middle class. We don’t have thousands of dollars lying around to burn on vacation time we’ll never use.
With that in mind, our sales representative crafted for us a club membership at the lowest price point Disney offers. For $13,500, we could purchase 100 points a year (we could add on more points at a later date if we so chose). Disney would give us 10 years to pay off that sum, but we’d have to make a 10% down payment up front. In addition to that $13,500 – which would give us those 100 points for the next 45 years – the only vacation costs we’d incur would be a small booking fee for making reservations at non-Disney properties and an annual membership fee of roughly $540. This membership fee went toward paying the taxes on our hotel rooms, for the most part, and would likely go up 3-5% every year.
The Pros and Cons
Being the pragmatists that we are, we decided to make a list of pros and cons:
- We are the type of family that goes on a summer vacation every year. Over the next 45 years – the length of the Disney Vacation Club membership – we’d likely spend two or three times the $13,500 price tag on our family trips.
- We love Disney; I’ve been to WDW in Florida eight times now and my husband’s been on three occasions. We’ve never had a bad word to say about the House of Mouse.
- This is a vacation investment. Paying $13,500 over the next decade may crimp our budget, but it would ultimately give us another 35 years of vacations at a rock bottom price.
- The price per point is currently $135 – that goes up over time. When Disney first launched this vacation club in 1992, points were only $50 each. Imagine if my parents had taken advantage of the club then… $5000 for 45 years of vacations? Sign me up!
- In addition to staying at WDW, there are literally participating hotels and resorts all over the world – Paris, London, Rome, Sydney – you name it, Disney’s got a contact there! Plus there are no fewer than six member resorts within a five hour drive from our house.
- That $540 annual membership fee… it was more than I was expecting. Plus, it goes up every year, and you pay it whether you use your points or not (although you can roll over points from one year to another without a limit).
- The financing wasn’t a good deal. Even with our exemplary credit, the best Disney could offer us was an 11.75% interest rate. I understand that it’s tough to find someone who will finance your vacation, but I wouldn’t pay an 11.75% interest rate for anything– not a car, not a house, not a credit card, and definitely not a vacation!
- Our kids are still really young. While I know we’ll take a family vacation next year, I know it’ll be years before my kids are ready to travel across the continent – or across an ocean – to stay at most of the member resorts.
- I’m frugal – really frugal. On this trip to Disney World, we chose to stay in a value level resort simply because it was the most affordable option. When we go on vacations, we don’t go to sit in the hotel room – we go to see the area. In other words, I don’t need lavish accommodations if all I’m going to do in the room is sleep.
- It didn’t cover the cost of anything else – park passes, food, transportation. That would add several hundred (maybe even thousand) dollars to each vacation, ultimately chipping away at the great deal.
As you can probably guess, we passed on joining the Disney Vacation Club this time around. We definitely see the value in it, but with our lifestyle I just don’t think it fits right now. The sales pitch definitely piqued our interest, however – and joining may be a serious consideration in the future, when we have the extra cash to pay for the full membership outright without financing any portion of it.
Reader, are you now – or have you ever been – a member of a vacation club? Or have you owned a timeshare? Did you feel like it was a good value? Why or why not?